Africa, Where Nobody Cares

Here is a heartbreaking story, and it’s not a little story either. It should be getting much more attention than it is. It’s called rape, and it is happening on a systematic, daily basis, with increasing frequency and impunity in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not only simple rape, but kidnapping, torture and sexual enslavement of very young girls, some as young as nine years old. The Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children also has issued a report on this. There were 27,000 sexual assaults in one province in 2006 alone! A couple of quotes from the above article:

The perpetrators include the Interahamwe, the Hutu fighters who fled neighbouring Rwanda in 1994 after committing genocide there; the Congolese army; a random assortment of armed civilians; even United Nations peacekeepers, and increasingly, local civilians.

Christine Schuler Deschryver, who works for a German aid organisation and has been a staunch and stubborn advocate for victims, says the perpetrators are difficult to identify. “All of them are raping women,” she says, “It is a country sport. Any person in uniform is an enemy to women.”

Apparently there is no authority willing to try to stop them. There is no order, no law, no police force, nobody who cares about the women who are being savaged, who’s lives are ruined by the indiscriminate assaults on a helpless populace. And not only are the women the only victims.

Some force males at gunpoint to rape mothers or sisters, often in front of the whole community. A large percentage of the attackers are HIV-positive and knowingly try to infect their victims.

“I have seen men literally lost,” Mukwege says. “Emotionally ruined and unable to go on after witnessing the destruction of their wives and the resulting destruction of their families. They are permanently haunted by thoughts going through their head – ‘I raped my wife and family and didn’t stop it.’ Some men flee and abandon their families. In cases where the perpetrators don’t kill their victims outright, they kill them slowly and painfully, not just physically, but psychologically and emotionally. It is the destruction of society.”

A typical example:

Mugoli Muhamiri was expecting wedding guests when she answered a knock at her door six months ago. Instead of relatives, a group of men poured in and began a rampage. She was tied up and the men took turns raping her. From the corner of her eye, she saw her husband’s throat being slit, and two of her children being mutilated. They were two years old. She says she counted seven men raping her, before she lost consciousness. Now she clings to her only surviving child, Stephen, who is unaware of the HIV that infects his mother’s body.

Now here’s the kicker:

“Darfur is nothing compared to what’s going on in the Congo,” says Schuler Deschryver, who despite constant death threats, continues to raise the plight of Congolese women. “My father was the founder of the National Park in Rwanda, which is home to rare silver back gorillas. During the war here, just one silver back was killed. And when it happened, within 48 hours millions in funding was sent to ensure the rest of the gorilla population was protected. Why isn’t the same done with our women? I’ll tell you why, because in the eyes of the international community animals have more value than humans in this part of the world.”

Here is another story on the crisis. And another which puts it into it’s political context. It is all part of a pattern known as Gender Based Violence.

One might come to the conclusion that Africa is truly living up to its former moniker as the “Lost Continent”. We’re losing it, slowly, but surely. First Somalia, then the Rwandan genocide, heap on an AIDS/HIV epidemic, sprinkle it with a Catholic dogma that discourages sexual disease prevention, drop in Darfur, then add the insult of widespread rape to the injury, and you have a giant sucking sound that is not jobs going to Mexico, but an entire continent spinning down the drain.

It’s understandable that there is political and social instability in Africa, but one wonders why the tendency is to take it out on the most defenseless portion of the population.

Too bad they can’t get these distributed in the Congo.

H/T to Boston Back Allie, who has a nice new blog.

39 thoughts on “Africa, Where Nobody Cares

  1. SI said: Too bad they can’t get these distributed in the Congo.

    My only fear is that as widespread as the “gang rape” situation is (not just a single attacker), the victim is not likely to escape the wrath of the others who are present. Once that happens to the first attacker, the others will likely kill the victim.

    It’s an excruciatingly sad situation on the African continent. As always, our attention is turned elsewhere. This fucking world is such a mess, it’s hard to know where to direct the primary efforts, but Africa would probably be as good a place to start as any. If we can save Africa, maybe we can save ourselves.

  2. Tragic. Fucking tragic. And to think all the money we wasted on ruining Iraq. And yet there are places like this which so desperately need help.

    Why do people find it so much easier to feel pity and empathy towards ‘cute’ animals, than their fellow people?

    What a world.

  3. That’s a story that ought to get everyone angry.

    But I’m going to take a second to speak up for the gorillas. I’m serious about this. The money and effort that goes toward saving their rapidly dwindling population doesn’t redirect in any way funds or actions that might otherwise be used for stopping the despicable situation described here.

    I know that should be obvious. But somehow, in response to these kinds of awful, devastating situations, even well-meaning people feel the need to say, “How come he/she/it gets X, when I don’t?” The story of the silverback is irrelevant. We should be infuriated about what’s happening to the women in the Congo, and also about what we’ve done in the past to the gorillas. It’s not either-or.

  4. Ex, you scare me sometimes. This is not the first time that I’ve been all set to comment and you say what I want to say (usually better). This shows why we should try to read the comments of others on a post before blurting out our own thoughts.

    But you took the words right off my keyboard when you said, in conclusion, “It’s not either/or”. Both are incredibly tragic and the funds dedicated to one does not have any more relevance than asking, “why do we waste so many billions of dollars eating junk food here in America when women are being raped and murdered in Africa”? It’s easy to fall in to a logical fallacy with the gorillas due to their proximity to the other tragedy, but they are totally unrelated.

    I hope XanderG doesn’t feel picked on. It’s a common mistake that most people make at one time or another. We just need to be aware of it and I’m just asking Xander and others (like the author of SI’s news story) to give it some thought.

    Look, don’t get down on the people who have dedicated their lives to saving the few remaining of one of our closest animal relatives. That’s what THEY do. They have become pretty good at it. They are well organized and know how to get the word spread effectively to people who care. But others can have a different focus – the women of Africa – and need to use some of the hard learned lessons of the wildlife activists.

  5. I didn’t take the reference to the gorillas as some slight against the people who give to that cause, or the people who try to save those gorillas. I saw it more as a comment on humanity in general, that we are quicker to feel outrage at the demise of one gorilla, than the rape of 27000 women. It’s a matter of perspective.

    Additionally, if you assume limited resources (money, people, services) an we quickly send them to a gorilla preserve, while ignoring the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women, what does that say about us?

  6. SI, you said: Additionally, if you assume limited resources (money, people, services) an we quickly send them to a gorilla preserve, while ignoring the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women, what does that say about us?

    As individuals, everyone follows his/her own conscious and does what they can. I have two primary organizations I donate my very limited resources to – World Wildlife Fund and Medecins Sans Frontieres (aka: Doctors Without Borders). In addition, I do like you do and blog about subjects that matter to me. I like the organizations because they represent two important aspects of the world that I would like to help/protect – animals and people.

    Coincidentally, I just received an email from Medecins Sans Frontieres today and it actually is “on topic”!

    On behalf of all of us at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and our patients thank you for your committed support of our work.

    This year, our field teams have provided emergency medical relief to millions of people around the world whose lives have been devastated by war, disease, and other disasters.

    In recent months, Doctors Without Borders aid workers have saved the lives of sick and malnourished children in Niger, aided families displaced by armed violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and delivered urgently needed medical supplies and clean drinking water to people in Bangladesh whose homes were destroyed by a severe cyclone.

    We were able to respond quickly and get people the help they so desperately needed because of the generosity of donors like you. Thank you for your ongoing support.

    Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!

    Nicolas de Torrenté
    Executive Director

  7. SI:

    You said, I saw it more as a comment on humanity in general, that we are quicker to feel outrage at the demise of one gorilla, than the rape of 27000 women. It’s a matter of perspective. I understand what you’re saying and agree that we sometimes don’t show anywhere near enough anger about how humans treat other humans. But we’re not talking about the “demise of one gorilla.” We’re talking about an entire species that, through no fault of its own, is being wiped out by our cosmic thoughtlessness. I don’t want to have to compare the evils by using “perspective.”

    As Evo pointed out, the people who work to save the gorillas do what they do very well. Maybe the people who ought to be speaking up on behalf of those women — like other governments, including America’s — are ineffective, or worse, just ignoring the problem. But I certainly can’t picture the Bush administration feeling outrage about women or gorillas who are being raped either literally or figuratively.

    Philly hit the nail on the head when he said it was too bad they have no oil there. On the other hand, we’re supporting an oil-rich Saudi regime that approves punishing a woman for being a rape victim!

  8. Ex

    We’re talking at cross purposes, I suspect. I don’t disagree with you. But I still find it hard to reconcile millions of dollars for all gorillas (or one) while nothing is being done for these women. Though, Evo reminds me that it’s not nothing. Doctors without Borders (also my favorite charity) appears to be doing something, while at the same time showing the world that charity does not begin in church.

  9. When I posted before, I initially considered posting something similar to Phillychief’s response. If there was oil in the Africa, the USA certainly would give a shit or two about it. How much the Africans would benefit from our tender ministrations is debatable, however, as our track record in Iraq is piss poor.

    I agree that the situation is not either/or: save the women or save the gorillas. It should and could be both. SI, I agree that resources are limited, but the USA is squandering more in Iraq every month than it would take to alleviate many of the world’s burdens. We have most, if not all, of the resources we need, we just don’t allocate them well. Meanwhile, real people and real, sentient beings of other species suffer, and the causes of much of their suffering has been instigated by the activities of selfish, short-sighted human beings.

  10. One other thing. It’s not just the money going to gorillas, it’s the time frame and scale of our reaction. 48 hours and money is pouring in to protect them, while this genocide and rape has been going on for years. The scale of our response is just pitiful in comparison. We should have troops landing in those countries to restore order.

  11. Don’t worry John Evo, I don’t feel picked on. I probably didn’t make it very clear, but my interpretation of the gorilla thing was more inline with SI, and the whole scale of response and time. You shouldn’t think I’m some miserable gorilla hater. If I remember correctly I wasn’t even thinking of gorillas when I said ‘cute’ animals. But I digress.

    I agree with The Exterminator that we should be feeling anger for both issues; the horrific man-made extinction of animals and the horrible brutality of our own species. But it just seems to me that people are far quicker to reach for their wallets when they see a cute animal in distress, rather than a human (of course we should also help cute animals), where the response tends to be quite pathetic.

  12. PhillyChief said: “Too bad there’s no oil in Africa.”

    But there is oil in Africa. Loads of it – the fabulous oil wealth of Nigeria has been famously plundered by a succession of corrupt leaders. Congo has massive mineral wealth and ought to be a rich nation, instead a weak and corrupt government led to other corrupt neighbouring governments as well as various war lords charging in to loot and pillage the wealth for themselves, and at the same time abuse the local population. Congo (and some other African countries) might be better off if they didn’t have mineral wealth.

  13. Minerals aren’t enough unless they have uranium. No, they’ll need something easily accessible like oil and some kind of bull about Al Qaeda being there. Considering how devastatingly we’re in debt now for generations to come from Iraq, an easy plunder with vast, lucrative resources would be very attractive.

  14. Actually they do have uranium. (towards the end). Plus tonnes of other stuff currently being plundered. The (false) accusation that Iraq had illegally acquired uranium from DR Congo was one excuse that Bush used to justify the Iraq war.

    I’m not arguing with you about the likelihood of US intervention, just being an irritating pedant about your statement. Sorry.

  15. You still need to sell it to the US people. As amazing as it sounds, wholesale rape and murder isn’t enough. Americans need to know some Al Qaeda plot is hatching there which will soon (always good to emphasize “soon”) mean something terrible will happen here. The spreading freedom, justice and all that are just bonuses, like getting “reimbursed” for our niceness by having at the natural resources present.

  16. There are two different issues of intervention.

    The first is an overt military intervention to stop the mayhem that is going on. As Philly indicates – that won’t happen. Our govt COULD choose to do it and the American people would support it but that’s not where this administrations priorities are. They don’t see anything in it for themselves. It’s sad but true and we have to live with it or elect people with a different world-view on priorities.

    The second is a populist intervention. That’s what you have with the folks SI and XanderG were talking about, who quickly and unhesitatingly open their wallets and get the international organizations mobilized. There seems to be a sense, on the part of SI and XanderG, that peoples priorities are screwed up when they will do this so rapidly in the name of saving the (fill in the blank) but seem to sit on that same wallet when it comes to our fellow human beings.

    I have no statistical data to support what I’m going to say, but it is my sense that those very same people (and a whole bunch of others who aren’t as concerned about animals) would have several times the amount of cash flowing in to this problem, if only the relief organizations were as politically adept as, for instance, the World Wildlife Fund.

    Here’s a completely anecdotal example. I knew within hours of the murdered gorillas in the Congo. I was contacted about it. Part of that is because I have supported WWF in the past. BUT, I have also supported the IRC (International Rescue Committee), UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders. Where was my IMMEDIATE outreach to help them on the problem in the Congo? I’m still waiting for it.

    It’s kind of hard to cast blame on people for supporting the one effort (gorillas) and not the other (women) when the organizations involved are, on the one hand, highly organized, and on the other, inept.

  17. No, I disagree that the majority of Americans would support a military intervention to help another nation overcome it’s lawlessness and wholesale rape and murder of it’s populance. The general American opinion would be “who cares about those people when we have our own problems?” followed by “why is it we are always the ones who have to save the world?”.

  18. The first thing that came to my mind was that the other men standing by for their turn would probably torture and kill the woman wearing this. It’s not like they are in a dark alleyway being raped by one person. It’s horrific what is going on in this world.

  19. Philly Chief said No, I disagree that the majority of Americans would support a military intervention to help another nation overcome it’s lawlessness and wholesale rape and murder of it’s populance.

    Hardly the main thrust of my comment, more of a throw away line.

    That said – Serbia. Haiti.

    If nothing else, people will go along for the same reasons we went along with Bush/Cheney into Iraq. No one stands up to the government and says “no”. So if you had a more progressive president right now and (s)he said, “I’m not standing for this outrage against humanity” and ordered in the troops – they’d go and some people would moan about it… but no one would stop it. At least this would be a decent use of our military instead of what it’s being used for today.

  20. People went along with Iraq because of bullshit on WMDs and bullshit about links to Al Qaeda. There were also millions of Americans who felt George I didn’t finish the job so there was plenty of reasons, mostly selfish reasons, for going into Iraq. Since then, it’s been bullshit after bullshit to reinvent why we’re there and what “mission accomplished” really means.

    To be blunt, I don’t think Americans care about Africa. Haiti is our back yard and Serbia, well, everyone was getting involved in that and that was Europe after all. I also don’t think people want another Black Hawk Down. This is why I said you need to sell it with some bullshit about Al Qaeda.

    Now yeah, sure, a President can throw the military around without any support for awhile but like I said, it’s Africa, and you know what Kanye said. Besides, we don’t have enough troops for Iraq right now let alone for the upcoming Iran invasion. Where will troops for the Congo come from? Black Water? I can see those guys killing rape gangs just to get first dibs on the ladies.

    Sorry, I like the optimism here but I think you’re all drinking the kool aid.

  21. I tend to agree with philly that the US will stay out, and that the US doesn’t care about Africa.

    I suspect the US is staying out of it partly because it’s a mess that the CIA backed and bank-rolled regime of Mobute helped create and that was then made worse by a French backed genocidial regime that sent about a million refugees into Congo. Plus the warlords etc in control now make sure that the minerals reach western companies so that we can keep our cell phones (Congo has 80% of the worlds supply of coltan, crucial to cell phones

    It is the presence of the huge mineral wealth that is funding the war and therefore rape.

    Ultimately (and sadly) it’s a l ot easier to help a few gorillas than to stop a messy civil war that has sucked in 4 or 5 nieghbouring countries, involves tens of millions of people and put weapons in the hands of young boys. Anyway, I’m not sure that even more soldiers with even more weapons would actually help the situation.

  22. Reading everything everyone has written so far above, I have two thoughts.

    1) I don’t think anyone we pay enough attention to the role that race might play in some individuals’ failure to open their wallets for, much less pay any attention to, the atrocities taking place in Africa.

    2) Psychologically, I think many people open their wallets far more readily for fast-moving, sensational tragedies than those that slowly smolder beneath the radar. Think of the difference between the outpouring after Katrina and 9/11 and the relatively glacier like pace of the public reaction to Somalia and the the Sudan.

    A few weeks after 9/11 a friend of mine provacatively stated “On September 10th, I’m sure someone was murdered whose income meant more to his struggling family than a banker who died on 9/11. One family will get financial relief because their loved one died in a giant flash along with thousands of others, while the other family gets nothing. Is one family more deserving than the other? Is one family’s loss greater?”

    A gutsy thing to say, to be sure, but a good point nonetheless.

  23. Lifeguard hit the nail on the head. I think many people open their wallets far more readily for fast-moving, sensational tragedies than those that slowly smolder beneath the radar.

    Because an ongoing atrocity like the situation in the Congo is so hard to digest — we’d rather think that acts of evil are sudden acute flare-ups rather than consistent chronic “policy” — most people don’t bother to make the attempt. On the other hand, a picture of a Tsunami sweeping away buildings is easy to relate to, even on the most visceral level. Also, the media hasn’t actually been overhwelming in its coverage of any parts of Africa, has it? Unless Brittney gets arrested for drunk driving while vacationing in Namibia, we’re not likely to see that change too soon.

  24. Exterminator:
    Right on… the only time the media cares about Africa is when some freaking celebrity is adopting a baby or cleaning up a child molestation mess. For all the coverage Oprah got you would think someone might have turned a camera towards the Congo.

  25. Well, I hate to ADMIT to watching American Idol, but that show they did last year for Africa was pretty special and they did raise something like $70 million in one night. Some of the media focuses on it. But clearly not enough when you think of all the things going badly there.

  26. John: Hear me now and believe me later… THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH WATCHING AMERICAN IDOL. IT’S A GREAT SHOW…

    …Said the Lifeguard after diving into the shallow end of the pool, prior to wiping the drool from his chin before it dripped onto his hospital gown.

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  28. Tommykey: If there were a just god in this universe, the rapist would never have the opportunity to commit a rape — the power, social, sexual, economic and socio-political mores that make rape ‘acceptible’ to the mind of the rapist would not exist. We live in a world ruled by reality, though. Rape is a crime of violence; a crime of power. It is not a crime of lust. The ones the rape is intended to punish, to render powerless, in the Congo is not the woman. It is her male family members. The rape is intended to shame them into impotence so they will not resist the ones trying to overpower them economically and physically.

    Just my take on it.

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